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Three Card Poker Rules - A Complete Guide To How To Play Three Card Poker

Three aces are not the best hand in three card poker

Looking for a casino table game that takes no time to learn? Look no further than three card poker. 

You can learn the key three card poker rules in just three minutes. 

Once you’ve got the basics down you’ll be able to play a game that’s fast paced and offers some incredible payouts.  

It’s available at the best online casinos and we’ve explained all you need to know about three card poker – including how to win at it. 

A three-minute guide to the 11 key three card poker rules

Three card poker is a new table game that borrows many of its rules from one of Britain’s oldest card games – three-card brag. The key rules of three card poker are so simple that you can pick them up in just three minutes. 

Key three card poker rule no. 1: heads-up 

Three card poker is a heads-up between the dealer’s hand and the player’s hand. 

This makes three card poker different to other poker games, such as pot limit Omaha, Texas hold’em, and seven-card stud, where the games are played between the number of players at the table. 

One of the main reasons three card poker was accepted by casinos was that it allows the house a greater chance to win some money from gamblers. 

Key three card poker rule no. 2: pay the ante to play, unless... 

You must pay an ante if you want to play three card poker, unless you want to pay the pair plus bet. If you pay the pair plus bet then you’re not obliged to pay the ante. However, you can pay both the ante and the pair plus bets, doubling-up on your wager.

Key three card poker rule no. 3: you can pay a pair plus wager

You can choose to pay a pair plus wager – if you think you’ll be dealt a pair or better. This means that even if you get the lowest possible pair in poker (two-two) and the dealer has a better hand then you’ll still win some money. 

Key three card poker rule no. 4: you get three cards

You’re dealt three cards to start with. There isn’t a strict convention on how the cards are dealt, with casinos given the option to deal them either face-up or face-down. However, in most casinos (both land casinos and online casinos) the cards are dealt face-up. 

Key three card poker rule no. 5: you decide if you play

Once you have your three cards you decide if you’re going to bet them against the dealer – if you raise you must pay a ‘play’ bet. 

Key three card poker rule no. 6: when to fold 

You should always fold hands that are worse than queen, six, and four – if you fold then you’re out. If you choose to fold your hand then you sacrifice any money that you’ve wagered, with this cash going to the house. 

Key three card poker rule no. 7: when to play 

You should always play hands that are queen, six, and four or better. The reason for always playing this specific hand is that the dealer needs to have at least a queen-high hand just to be able to play – it’s also been claimed that playing these cards is the optimal way to play three card poker

Key three card poker rule no. 8: turn over your cards 

If you decide to play your hand then all the cards are turned over to see if you beat the dealer – of course, if you’re playing in a casino where you’ve been dealt your cards face-up then you don’t need to expose your cards. 

Key three card poker rule no. 9: when you lose 

If the dealer has a better hand than you then they get both the ‘play’ bet and ante – the hand strengths in three card poker are outlined later in this guide, with the payout levels being explained for each of them. 

Key three card poker rule no. 10: when you win 

This is what happens when the player has a better hand than the dealer:

  • If the dealer’s hand is jack-high or worse then you get your ‘play’ bet back. 

  • If the dealer’s hand is queen-high or better then you get your ‘play’ and the ante. 

Key three card poker rule no. 11: pair plus bets have a separate payout

The rule in three card poker is that if you make a pair plus bet it pays out independently to the hand the dealer has. What this means is that as long as you hit your pair (a minimum of two-two), then you’ll receive a payout. 

A pile of money that could have been won from three card poker

Credit: Pixabay

A simple guide to the main three card poker bonus payouts

The rules of three card poker are that if you make either a pair plus or ante bet then you can get a payout without your hand winning – these are two side bets that players can make, but you can also make both bets (ante and pair plus).  

To get your bonus you simply have to hit one of the poker hands that are eligible for a payout – which we list below.  

Pair plus payouts in three card poker 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Straight flush

40 to 1

Three of a kind

30 to1

Straight

6 to 1

Flush

3 to 1

Pair

1 to 1

Ante bonus payouts in three card poker 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Straight flush

5 to 1

Three of a kind

4 to1

Straight

1 to 1

A quick guide to how to play three card poker  

Three card poker is one of the simplest forms of poker and one of the easiest casino table games to learn how to play. 

The game uses a standard 52 card deck (jokers removed) and is played between players and the dealer. It begins with players having three options for betting – they can place an ante, pair plus, or both.  

Once all bets have been made, you are then dealt three cards – there’s no strict convention on how the cards are dealt, but they’re often dealt face up. 

When all the cards have been dealt, you then have the option to play or fold. 

If you paid the ante, you must make an additional “play” bet that’s the same amount as your ante bet. However, if you’ve made a pair plus bet this decision is made for you by your cards – if you have a pair of better then you’ve hit your hand so you play, if you haven't then you fold. 

After all players have decided whether they’re going to play or fold, the dealer must then qualify in order to play their hand – they need to have at least queen-high. 

If the dealer doesn’t qualify then all ante bets are paid back at 1 to 1. If the dealer does qualify then you must beat their hand to win. 

A simple guide to the essential rules of betting in three card poker

The key rules of betting in three card poker are very simple to learn – there are four main bets you can place and each is extremely straightforward. 

Ante: three card poker rules for ante betting 

The ante is a bet that is placed in order to join a game and be dealt your cards. Once you’ve been dealt your three cards there are two rules that apply to the ante: 

  1. You fold 

  2. You make a play bet – this is explained below

Play: three card poker rules for play betting 

If you made an ante bet and chose to play your hand once you’ve been dealt your card then your ante bet turns into a play bet. There is one rule you need to be aware of with play bets: 

  1. Your play bet must be the same value as your ante bet

Pair plus: three card poker rules for pair plus betting 

A pair plus bet is made on the belief that you will be dealt a hand that is at least a pair – meaning a minimum of two-two (deuce-deuce). There are three rules to keep in mind if you’re making a pair plus bet: 

  1. If you make a pair plus bet you aren’t obliged to pay the ante 

  2. If you don’t make a pair from your three cards then you lose

  3. The pair plus bet isn’t influenced by the dealer’s hand – if you make a pair or better then you’ll get a payout based on the strength of your hand 

Ante & pair plus: three card poker rules for combo betting 

You can make a combined bet of ante and pair plus. If you choose to make this wager then the three card poker rules for both ante and pair plus bets apply. 

What’s the house edge in three card poker? 

We’ll keep the point on the house edge in three card poker as simple as possible – because all you need to know is what it is. There are two different house edges in three card poker: 

House edge for pair plus bets 

7.28%

House edge for ante & play bets 

3.37%

How can I win at three card poker? 

Like every casino game, the reason you play three card poker is to have fun and to win. You win at this game by knowing the rules of three card poker, how to play it, and which strategies you should use – we’ve covered the first two earlier in this article, so now we’ll explain the strategies for you. 

There’s no strategy for pair plus bets 

Pair plus bets are pure luck. You bet on having a pair or better and you’re dealt a hand that either achieves this or it doesn’t – it’s as simple as that. This means there’s no strategy for making a pair plus bet other than deciding if it’s the right bet for you. 

Always make a play bet if you have queen/6/4 or better 

First things first, the dealer needs to have at least queen high to be able to play their hand. This means that playing queen/6/4 could see you win the hand just by having a high card. 

But that’s not the only reason to always play queen/6/4 or better – it’s been proven that this is the optimal strategy to take if you want to win at three card poker. 

Where can I play free online three card poker? 

Three card poker is a popular game in both land and online casinos. While the rules of three card poker are incredibly simple to learn, our recommendation is that you play free online three card poker before playing for cash – the benefit of this is that you can get used to the game without worrying about losing money. 

There are many great sites where you can play free online free card poker. Our favourite one is Table Games Online. It has an excellent free version of three card poker that even gives you tips on how you played your hand – such as advising if you made a good fold. 

Credit: Table Games Online 

A guide to the rules of five important bets in three card poker

We explained earlier in this guide that there are four key bets in three card poker – ante, play, pair plus, and combo. These are the non-negotiables the ones you need to know just to have a basic understanding of the rules of three card poker. 

But they aren’t the only bets you can make in three card poker – there are five other important bets that you can make in three card poker.

Three card poker betting rules No. 1: progressive

A progressive bet allows you to bet on the chance of getting one of the three top-ranked hands available in three card poker. 

The rules of a progressive bet is that it must be made prior to any cards being dealt. A progressive bet offers the following payouts. 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Royal flush

500 to 1

Straight flush

100 to1

Three of a kind

90 to 1

Three card poker betting rules No. 2: prime 

The object of a prime bet is for the player and the dealer to each have three cards of the same colour – for example, six red cards. 

As a side bet, the rule is that you must make a prime bet prior to being dealt your cards. If you decide to make a prime bet then you can get these payouts. 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

6 cards are the same colour

4 to 1

3 cards are the same colour

3 to1

Loser

-1 to 1

Three card poker betting rules No. 3: six card bonus 

The six card bonus is one of the best known side bets in three card poker. It’s a fun bet which has the objective of making the best hand possible from the six cards in play from the dealer and player. 

Like all other side bets in this game, the three card poker rule is that you must make this bet prior to being dealt your cards. The payouts for this bet can be seen below. 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Royal flush

1,000 to 1

Straight flush

200 to1

Four of a kind 

50 to 1

Full house 

25 to 1

Flush

15 to 1 

Straight 

10 to 1 

Three of a kind 

5 to 1 

Loser

-1 to 1 

Three card poker betting rules No. 4: Millionaire Maker

Millionaire Maker is a side bet that incorporates the six combined cards of the player and dealer. It makes a diamond royal flush the top hand you can achieve. 

Because millionaire maker is a side bet, the rules are that you must make this wager prior to being dealt your three cards. You can see the payouts in the following table. 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

6 card royal flush (diamonds)

200,000 to 1

6 card royal flush

20,000 to 1

5 card royal flush

1,000 to 1

5 card royal flush

200 to1

Four of a kind 

50 to 1

Full house 

25 to 1

5-card flush 

15 to 1 

5-card straight 

10 to 1 

Three of a kind 

5 to 1 

Other 

-1 

Three card poker betting rules No. 5: Red Hawk Bonus

Red Hawk Bonus is one of the most interesting side bets in three card poker – it gives you a chance to win based on your hand or the other players’ hands sat at your table (an envy bonus). 

The rules of this bet are that you need to make it before your cards are dealt. You can see what payouts are available by checking the tables underneath. 

Your hand: 

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Royal flush (spades)

4,000 to 1

Royal flush

1,000  to1

Straight flush

100 to 1

Three of a kind

25 to 1

Loser

Envy bonus:

Three Card Poker Hand

Three Card Poker Payout

Royal flush (spades)

100 to 1

Royal flush

25 to1

Straight flush

Three of a kind

Loser

Dogs play three card poker and so can you

Credit: Wikipedia

Regional three card poker rules 

While it’s fair to say that three card poker rules are broadly the same everywhere you play, there are a couple regional quirks that it’s helpful to know. We’ve looked at the California three card poker rules, Florida three card poker rules, and ultimate three card poker rules, pointing out the key differences that you need to be aware of. 

California three card poker rules

California three card poker is a version of the game that’s played in some of the top casinos in Los Angeles and Washington. It follows the normal three card poker rules with a few notable exceptions. 

  • There’s an additional charge (often 1% of the amount bet) to play 

  • One of the dealer’s cards is dealt face-up 

  • The game doesn’t include any ante bonuses 

  • The player needs to beat the dealer’s hand to win the ante – even if the dealer doesn’t qualify 

Florida three card poker rules

As the name suggests, Florida three card poker is a version that is played in the USA’s Sunshine State. It exists because regular three card poker doesn’t conform to Florida’s state gambling laws – casinos operated by the Seminole tribe aren’t subject to these laws, so are able to follow the standard three card poker rules. 

Where three card poker rules differ from the normal game is that the object of every bet must be to beat an opponent. What this means is that pair plus bets must beat the dealer’s hand – you don’t win just by having a pair – and there is no ante bonus. 

Ultimate three card poker rules

Played in some of Reno’s casinos, ultimate three card poker is a variant that will appeal to high rollers. Why? Because it allows you to increase your ante bet, if your hand is a pair or better. It follows the standard three card poker rules, with the following exceptions: 

  • You must make an extra blind bet 

  • You can increase your ante bet by up to 3x if you have a pair or better 

  • You need to beat the dealer to win 

  • If you make a winning raise bet then it will only payout at evens

What equipment do I need to be able to play three card poker?

Part of the reason three card poker became popular with casinos is that it gives the house an opportunity to win poker games – games such as Texas hold’em are played between players, so the house isn’t involved in the pot. 

This means that three card poker will often require no more equipment other than yourself and an appreciation for the rules of the game. 

However, if you want to play three card poker at home then you simply need the standard equipment for a poker game: 

  • 52-card deck

  • Dealer 

  • Players 

  • Chips 

What is the history of three card poker? 

Three card poker is a casino update of three-card brag, a classic British card game that people have played since the 16th-century – you’ll find a detailed explanation of the rules of three card brag in this article

Using elements of three-card brag, three card poker was created in 1994 by Derek Webb. Webb invented the game to give poker the speed of casino table games and noted that it required three features to be a successful casino game: 

  • The rules of three card poker needed to be easy to understand

  • The payouts needed to be big enough to entice gamblers 

  • The house edge needed to be large enough to get casinos interested 

Three card poker is now so popular that it’s the “most successful proprietary table game in the history of the gaming industry.”

Learning the rules of three card poker is incredibly simple, so much so that you can do it in just a few minutes. Once you know how to play, there are lots of great online casinos you can test your skills out at. So learn the rules then play the game! 




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